Weekend Projects – Gavel and Block

Monday 9 July 2018

Several years ago, while exhibiting at one of my regular craft events here in Norfolk I was approached by a very smart gentleman, who asked if I made gavels and blocks. The answer at the time was, no, but I later told him I could.

I had some idea as to what was required and the gentleman liked the quality of my work and asked me to come up with some samples. To cut a long story short, the man turned out to be the president of the Institute of Toastmasters of Great Britain.

I have made many gavels for this man over the years, and the one I make today is tailored to his specific requirements. A Toastmaster needs to carry his gavel and block in the coattail pocket so it needs to be a certain size and also needs to make a good sound when struck – this is achieved simply by hollowing the base of the block. It must also be durable, taking into account the situation it will be used in/on, so a simple melamine finish is what is used.

The original design I came up with had a bead on the top edge of the block but this is no longer used. On a few early blocks this proved to be somewhat fragile and fractured if struck by an over-enthusiastic novice, hence the blended shape that I use today on both the edge of the block and the end of the gavel head.


The timber for this project needs to be prepared accurately as the head marking out must be just so. Use a marking gauge here – this will allow the centreline to be accurately marked on the ends and top face. Firstly, find the centre on the top face and drill a hole through which measures 12mm. Mount the blank between centres and make round to a diameter of 45mm using a 20mm spindle roughing gouge. Use odd leg dividers to mark 9mm to the left and right of the hole


Create a 6mm bead on the outside of the lines using a beading tool


Use a set of dividers set at 10mm to scribe a line on both ends – this will be the distance to the end of the cove


Now repeat with a second set of dividers set at 16mm. This is the overall length of the block


Using a skewchigouge, create a cove at both ends beside the beads


Round over the end of the head and repeat for the opposite end of the blank


Use a round-nosed scraper to create the cove at the centre of the head, this allows the tool to work without worrying about the hole. With all the details finely tuned it is time to sand and seal the head using melamine – either sprayed on or applied with a brush


With the head finished you can now part the ends until there is only around 8mm left at the centre – this can be removed carefully using a small saw

Turning the handle


For turning the handle, start by centring the blank and drilling an 8mm hole at one end. Begin by mounting between centres and place the drilled end at the tailstock using a standard 60 degree live centre. Reduce to the round using a 20mm spindle roughing gouge then reduce to a diameter of 25mm. Using a beading tool, at 55mm from the end create a 6mm bead. Taper the end to fit into the hole in the handle until it appears on the other side


The next step is for you to turn the handle to the shape required


Round over the end of the handle and refine the shape. Finally add the details with a small point tool or a skew chisel


Mount a small piece of African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) between centres, make round, and then turn a small button to fit into the end of the turned handle. Use spanners to size the spigot accurately. Use a small scraper to create the cove behind the bead, then sand and polish before parting off



Before assembly can take place you need to make a saw cut into the end of the handle using a bandsaw. Make sure the cut is covered when the head is fitted. The wedge, when driven in, will splay the saw cut section and will lock the shaft in position. However, it is very important that the wedge must be the same width as the opening/hole



Fit the fox wedge with good quality wood glue, and when fitted, it will be impossible to remove. Drive the wedge on a solid surface to avoid damaging the handle. With the glue set, fit a sanding arbor into the Jacobs chuck mounted in the headstock spindle. Turn the lathe on slowly, then sand the ends of the hammer head


Remove the waste material at the top of the hammer head. I use a grinding disc fitted to my flexible-shaft unit, then finish with hand sanding. Now, apply a coat of melamine finish – this usually requires several coats to get the coverage required. With the hammer finished the button can be fitted to the end


Now take the blank for the block then centre and mount it on the chuck. Drill a 50mm hole with a sawtooth bit, and expand your chuck jaws into this to hold it securely. Now turn the base to create a dish – this makes a hollow that will help generate the sound when the block is struck by the hammer. In this area, cut a shallow groove with a parting tool to allow your chuck jaws to expand into and hold in this later. Sand and finish the base, then reverse chuck the blank


Turn the base down to a diameter of 100mm and create a 10mm bead at the bottom. Reduce the diameter of the top to 95mm and face off the top to remove the previous chucking method. Now create a slightly domed top to the block – the section to be struck with the gavel – then turn a cove between the top and base section. Refine the details – note: the slight bead-like mushrooming around the domed face – then sand and apply a finish of your choice


Your completed gavel and block should look something like this